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The Longview School District is leading the charge in Southwest Washington to offer its students a fast track into the trades.

This year, about 30 Longview high-school students enrolled in the district’s new pre-apprenticeship program that will prepare them for a career in the trades, much like traditional curriculum prepares students for college.

“We wanted to do more than just offer one class, so we have a sequence of courses for them to take,” said Jill Diehl, director of student services and career and college readiness.

Sam Kell, an instructor for the pre-apprenticeship program, said it is “filling a gap that’s been here a long time” by offering students training for a new career path.

“For years, there have been students interested in the trades, and they aren’t traditional college-bound (students),” Kell said.

Brady Anderson, a Mark Morris senior, is one such student. He said he doesn’t plan on attending a four-year university after high school.

“I want to get right into it and start making money,” said Anderson, who hopes to become a lineman after he graduates.

For Anderson and his peers, the pre-apprenticeship is “more than just a woodshop class.” The program gives them a taste of what a real job in the trades would be like.

In their first two years of high school, pre-apprenticeship students take traditional courses in science, math and social studies, along with trades-based electives, like manufacturing, welding and pipefitting.

The curriculum becomes more trades-specific their junior and senior years with classes like industrial math and technical writing (substitutes for traditional algebra and English language arts courses). Students also develop their technical skills during a two-period apprenticeship block every day.

“The majority of the instruction is direct instruction with the teacher, followed by very applied-learning completion of construction projects,” Diehl said. “The goal is to help kids understand they aren’t just going to a shop class, they are going to a job site.”

Pre-apprenticeship students also get to take “field trips” to local job sites and offices, where they are introduced to local employees.

“This program a huge benefit for us and other trades,” said Adam Davis, business agent for the Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 26 Union. “These are the future craftsmen and women.”

Debby Webster’s son, Brian Webster, is enrolled in the program. Debby said the professional connections Brian is making through the program are very valuable.

“I don’t think a regular shop class would prepare him like this will,” Debby said. “It’s a good direction for the kids. It gives them lots of options.”

The pre-apprenticeship classes are open to all Longview high school students, but the program is based out of a shop building on Mark Morris High School campus (R.A. Long and Discovery students will be bussed to the shop for their classes). Recent renovations transformed the old woodshop into a “real-world” work environment.

Mark Morris senior Chandler Byman said the new program allows students to combine two or more work materials, whereas traditional shop classes are usually limited to just one medium.

“This is more like the tradies,” Byman said. “You get to experiment, and you get to use all types of materials.”

Two years in the making, the pre-apprenticeship program started as a “grassroots, community-driven partnership” between the school district and local industry, Diehl said.

“It all started with a conversation when I reached out to Jill,” Davis said. “We just talked about the opportunities we could provide the students, and it was born from there.”

Mike Bridges, president of the Longview/Kelso Building Trades Council, got involved in the conversation soon after. He is now one of the program’s primary sponsors.

“It’s always felt like when we go into high school and talked, we were kind of like an afterthought,” Bridges said Mike Bridges. “It’s nice to see the pendulum swing back this way because there really is a lot of alternatives for students...We are certainly not messaging college is a bad idea, we just have a different message.”

The district is working to get the program registered with the U.S. Department of Labor. Registering the program streamlines a student’s path to an apprenticeship after high school.

“If they meet all of the requirements, and they pass the (industry) math and English tests at a certain level and they pass a drug test, they will have direct entry into an apprenticeship program,” Diehl said.

But even without direct entry, Bridges said the pre-apprenticeship training will increase the likelihood of these students getting jobs after high school. The specialized training will make these students stand-out applicants for jobs in the trades, he said.

“It will definitely give them an advantage over someone without the pre-apprenticeship. I think that is going to carry a lot of weight when they get to that interview,” Bridges said.

State officials expect Longview’s pre-apprenticeship program to serve as a model for other high schools looking to offer similar career pathways, Diehl said. Representatives from Vancouver, Evergreen and Ocean Beach school districts attended an open house for the pre-apprenticeship facility on Oct. 3 to see how Longview structured its new program.

“The really fascinating thing for our community and our school district is that the work we are doing is being recognized at the state level,” Diehl said. “We are kind of cutting edge and at the start of this (movement).”

“The best part is just how excited the kids are,” Diehl said. “When you talk to the kids in the program this year...they finally feel like they have something that fits them and fits their careers.”

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